Safiya dungarees: jury’s out…

So I’ll admit it. Like many sewists have already admitted, it was the safiya dungarees that drew me to the new Tilly and the Buttons book most. This surprises precisely no one as my love of dungarees is widely known. What did surprise me though was that, when I’d finished them, I really wasn’t sure about them.

Usually with Tilly patterns (and yes I know this is the third tilly pattern blog in a row) I can decide by looking at the pattern whether I’m going to like it on me or not. For example: Bettine ✔ Coco ✔ I know both of these patterns (among others) suit me and are comfy to wear. Conversely, I know that the Etta dress is too fancy for me and the Orla blouse is too high cut to flatter my ample bust. I’ve been sewing for years now and I know what suits me and what I should just ignore. Or so I thought.

My flirtations with Make it Simple began with the Suki dress. I had some gorgeous bright teal linen look cotton and thought it would be a nice summer dress. I finished it beautifully but it looks horrendous on. It’s too much over my bust and makes me feel enormous. I’m going to refashion it into an ogden cami dress hack. Next up was the Tabitha T-shirt. I used a striped black and white Jersey with black rib for the neckband. Despite the hell that was stripe matching, it is a very comfy and wearable top. Think I’ll make a size down next time but that’s the way it goes.

Next I figured I’d tackle the Safiya, opting for the dungarees rather than trousers. I had some lovely black crinkle viscose with a pink tropical flower print. Let me tell you crinkle viscose is lovely to wear but awful to cut and sew. It moved all over the place of its own accord. I’m going to go ahead and assume this is why I so many issues with the pattern fitting together.  The trousers were largely fine but the bottom edge was wildly uneven at the side seams. No clue what happened there. The bodice was okay but I think I mucked up the darts as it was a bit of a palaver getting the side seams to fit.

Joining them together went okay. Straps and facing was where it went to pieces. As I discovered playing sewing rebel bingo from the love to sew podcasts Instagram story, notches are often ignored by sewists, me included. I have started however to see their value recently, and I wish to god I’d just remembered to snip them in on the bodice and facing. The facing was altogether too small for the bodice and there was a certain amount of discrete pleating going on to make it fit. Then the straps were sewn on wrong about 3 times. I eventually got it right and then the front of the bodice was super gapey (I’m talking, if I wasn’t wearing a top underneath bending down to tie my shoe would have resulted in a massive boob avalanche). I fixed that with a couple of tucks into the front next to where the straps are. It’s not the neatest but fortunately the dark colour and print hide my multitudinal sins.

I decided from the beginning to make the length as per the pattern to see where the legs fall on me without adjustment. As it is, with a small hem, they hit just the top of my foot/ mid ankle. They aren’t long but aren’t short like culottes. I will definitely make my next pair culotte length and then work out how much to add to make them floor length (my preferred length for wide leg trousers). But when I wore them as they are my mum assured me that they didn’t look odd.

So while I was sewing these dungarees I saw a reminder about the #sewingbeestyle competition run by @sewistandthecity on Instagram. I had absolutely meant to take part and had never settled on what to make. This fit the bill perfectly, channeling both holiday week and children’s week. So I decided to get them finished and wore them to my cousin’s socially distant 21st birthday (gin in his garden) where they got lots of compliments and my uncle took a picture for me to submit them to the competition.

Just a bit of fun I always think, I never win anything. I always enter the comps both the ones with random selection and with actual winners. I’m just not a winner. Or at least until this one, because I won a prize! I was so surprised and so giddy. I had so many mixed feelings about these dungarees. Guess I still do but I am decidedly more positive about them now that other people feel they are prize worthy.

I might just not make them again for a while.



The Indigo dress (finally)

This dress has been a long, long time in the creation process. I cut the fabric out in December I think. At the time I wanted it to be a sleeveless hack so I could wear tops underneath in the winter and bare armed in the summer. And so when I cut the fabric out I omitted the sleeves thinking I’d face the arm holes with bias binding. Which I did… at first.

First of all, I need to say, I’m considering this a wearable toile because there is lots wrong with it. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but next time will be so much better. The fabric is super soft and floaty. I think it is a viscose of some sort (feels like a challis) but is has next to no body and is distressed by the slightest breeze (I’m sure you can imagine what a joy it was to steam iron…).

So anyway, the fabric was cut out and ready to go but I just couldn’t be bothered. And then lockdown happened and it suddenly cropped up at the top of my ‘to sew’ list again. Construction went well until the gathered skirt. I’d faced the armholes in black bias binding and it was fine, a bit gapey but fine. So, time to crack on with the gathers. Tilly recommends 3 rows of gather stitches in a contrasting thread. Okay, I thought, what colour contrasts enough with this floral? I settled on bright green for the gather stitches. Unfortunately the thread was of such poor quality it snapped everytime I pulled it. This happened everytime. Pull, snap, re-stitch, pull snap, re-stitch. I screwed it up in a ball and threw it in the corner of my sewing space. I couldn’t even pick it up. I was very cross with it and genuinely believed I would never finish it.

Until this week. Approximately 9 weeks since I started it, I said “sod this. I want to wear it” (I had been ingesting lots of tilly and the buttons indigo content online and I guess I got inspired).

First I knew I needed to attach the skirt. So, with a deep breath and a gentle hand I gathered and attached the skirt to the bodice. I then tried it on and realised 3 things: the pockets were too low, I wanted sleeves and it was massive.

The pockets are okay. I might move them up at a later date but I’m dealing with it right now. The size could be fixed. I took it in by an inch and a half on each side. It’s still loose but much better. Finally, sleeves.  I got the pattern piece out and looked at the (admittedly now minimal) fabric I had left and folded my pattern to a size that I was happy with and that fitted on my fabric. It resulted in a short t shirt sleeve, which I actually love the length of. Okay, so I accidentally sewed the sleeves on the wrong sides, which I realised while pinning the second sleeve in, but it’s okay and you can’t really see it unless I point it out (which I just did…)

I’m a very lazy sewist and generally hate set in sleeves but actually this was okay in the insertion (if you ignore my mistake). When hemming the sleeves my machine went weird and loopy meaning I had to unpick and redo the hem on one. But overall, as a wearable toile, I really like it. I will try the frill sleeve one day but never again in that sort of fabric. It definitely needs some weight and by some I mean literally anything more than this fabric has.

Here she is…

Looks like a sack on the hanger…
Bit of a tuck where I took it in
Short sleeve hack
World’s bounciest facing. Even understitching didn’t help…

So overall, in spite of her flaws, I am looking forward to wearing this all year round. Bonus: for once I didn’t have to lengthen a Tilly pattern’s skirt. Disclaimer: I lengthened the bodice by 2 inches.

I am looking forward to my next one which will be in that grey double gauze I think.



A Summer Bettine

So I’ve wanted to make another TATB Bettine for a while. I had made it initially in dark green christmas fabric for christmas day a few years ago. Then I made it in a cotton jersey (the incredible shrinking dress – do keep up). Finally, a couple of summers ago I made a blue chambray version. It it patterned with tiny white fleur de lis and I included the pockets, cuffs and cuff tabs (as I had on all previous versions) trimmed on this version with little wooden buttons with delicate printed dragonflies on them.

Sadly, when I made these versions I was a lot smaller than I am now, both in the bust and the booty. So, because I was foolish and hadn’t traced the pattern and simply cut it out, I only had the pattern in a size which now does not fit me. Seriously, the blue version is comically tight and I haven’t even chanced the christmas version. So what to do? I bought the pattern again and this time I traced it. I don’t feel too bad about this because I got it as part of a pattern bundle with TATB Nora and Cleo, both of which I’ve had my eye on for ages. And I’ll never regret spending my money with indie companies.

So having traced this pattern now at a more appropriate size I set about making it. I already knew I’d need to make some adjustments to it so figured before I touched my chosen fabric (the yellow floral viscose challis from a previous post) I would continue with this “being a grown up sewist” thing and make my adjustments on the pattern rather than just winging it during cutting out like I usually do. Let’s be honest, that rarely ends well. So having toyed with FBA and reading Tilly’s advice for doing this on a dartless bodice, I decided that as the bodice needed some serious lengthening anyway this might solve the issue. I was right. It did. The fabric is so soft and drapey it holds the extra length beautifully over my bust and isn’t tight in the slightest.

I lengthened the bodice by 10 cm and did the same to the skirt (both at the lengthen/shorten lines). This solved my bust issue and made it a more appropriate length for me. Tilly, I love you but your patterns are so short. For reference, lengthening the skirt by 10cm brought it to my knee ish and I am 5 foot 7.

I also made the decision to use french seams throughout (bodice and skirt) because this fabric frays like crazy. Do note, I decided this before cutting my fabric out and so trimmed myself a small extra seam allowance round each piece to give me space to make mistakes. I’m still quite new to french seams but I love them and I’m trying to use them with delicate fabrics as much as I can. I did get a cut and hem foot for my birthday but this fabric was far too delicate (I tried it on some scraps to make sure I made the right steaming choice – I did).

It’s no secret that I love this pattern. It is a real TNT and I’m so glad I’ve now made the adjustments to the pattern pieces so I can just make it up next time. The pockets are probably my favourite bit. I usually like to top stitch the facing and bag edge rather than under stitching it as I find it a bit easier and just as neat. I also decided to stitch the channel for the elastic upwards to the bodice rather than downwards to the skirt as this creates a smoother finish for the pockets. But that’s just personal preference. I do also love that the facing gets neatly top stitched down as I can’t abide a flappy facing.

So yesterday was 32 degrees and though I wanted to get some lovely photos in the garden, I was just too hot to want to do anything of that sort. So I had resigned myself to waiting until the skies cleared again (today was supposed to mark the start of a week of thunderstorms) but then the sun came out. So I threw the dress on and grabbed my photographer (mum).

And here she is.

I categorically refuse to make dresses without pocket potential…

In increasing the length, the skirt lost some of it’s iconic tulip shape but I suspect the french seams may be the reason.

Ignore the pineapple bun on my noggin…

It was super creased when I first put it on this morning but by the time I took these photos the creases had all but fallen out. I’m now even more impressed by this fabric.

I left off the cuffs and tabs because I wanted a simpler sleeve due to the delicate fabric. I love this even more than the cuffs and tabs.

So there she is. My new and adjusted Bettine pattern is ready for my next one, which I think will be double gauze, and this one is getting loads of wear already. It is a very good addition to my summer work wardrobe. Equally suited to the classroom and to working at home.

Ignore my fluffy baby hairs. They were being ridiculous today.

And that, as they say, is that.



Sewing catch up

All I’m saying is that lockdown is bad for my bank account but great for my sew-jo. I’ve bought so much sewing stuff but I’ve been so inspired to actually do something with it, I’ve been tracing, cutting and sewing loads.

First of all, I’m slowly working on my sleeveless hack of the TATB indigo dress. The fabric is lovely but tricky to work with because it is so lightweight. It’s on the back burner for now because we had a falling out over the gathers. So to just get something cut and sewn I made the Suki dress from Tilly’s new book from that teal coloured linen look cotton. I hate it. The style just isn’t me. I worked so hard to make it beautiful (I used french seams and top stitched the facing down) but it looks dreadful on. So… nil desperandum. I’m planning to refashion it into an ogden cami dress hack in the summer.

But I felt let down by the Suki dress and needed something equally quick and satisfying to sew. So what did I do? Broke out my trusty agnes top pattern didn’t I? Had this purple floral jersey for years. Don’t even remember where I got it. But there is loads. My mum helped me fold it because it has so much stretch it was tricky to fold to get the most use from it. I initially cut out a skirt to make it into a dress hack but when I finished the top part I was so glad I had waited to shorten it as it was just so lovely. I’ve been saying I need more me made tops so decided to leave it as it was. I am planning to use the Jersey to make a gathered skirt to wear with it though so it will be like a fake dress. I absolutely love it. Just need to stitch a label in now.

Best neckband insertion yet!

Feeling my sew-jo reinvigorated I decided to stop faffing about and finally cut my Lilou. It was a wearable toile really because the fabric isn’t particularly me, but actually I really like it and the adjustments I’ve got to make on the next one (oh yes, there will be a next one) I’m fine with. I did toile the bodice in an old bed sheet and decided to lengthen it by a couple of inches but I think I will shorten it a bit on the next one because the waist seam is a tad low. But it’s absolutely fine for this dress because I’m planning for it to be a floaty, day at the beach, cool and comfy dress so wasn’t after it being super fitted. I took the back bodice in by an inch or so as it was gaping a bit, but a couple of triangular darts fixed that. I chose a gathered skirt version because a) I prefer gathers to pleats and b) my fabric wasn’t very wide. I was so focused on making it with French seams (my new favourite thing) that I completely forgot to add pockets. My bad. I can add them later I guess. I also didn’t line it because the only stuff I had was some cheap polyester lining and I didn’t want this to be too sweaty. Instead I faced the neck and arm holes with purple bias binding (my second favourite thing) and I love how cool just one layer of cotton poplin is. I think next time I will do the same but might lower the neck line slightly to be more flattering on my busty figure. The self drafted pleated skirt falls just below my knee so has a slight 50s vibe which I’m really digging. Here she is…

Pretty successful invisible zip without a concealed zipper foot I think
One of the darts to take it in and my label.

I’ve also just received in the post a couple of exciting things. First was a concealed zipper foot so my next Lilou will be neater. Then was this gorgeous jungle viscose crepe from fabric godmother. I’ve never ordered from fabric godmother before but I’d seen a few bloggers and vloggers make things with it and just fell in love. So I ordered 2 metres thinking … I dunno a dress or something, then it arrived and it just screamed fake jumpsuit made from Safiya culottes and an ogden cami (pattern on the way) so I can have separates as well. So I ordered another metre for the cami.

Next I ordered some viscose from amazon. Before lockdown the only fabric I ever ordered from amazon was a bit of a disappointment but based on the success of the floral stretch fabric I jumped in and bought this lovely mustard floral print viscose for £7 (?) A metre. It’s gorgeous. I’m thinking a Bettine. I also bought a pattern bundle from TATB, including a Cleo, Nora and Bettine. I already have the Bettine but back when I first made it I did not know the joys of tracing patterns so cut it out in a size which is now much too small for me. I know I’m losing weight but I figured I love this pattern so much I should buy a fresh one and trace it off. I’m a much happier bunny now. I think the floral stretch will be a nora. And I don’t have anything in mind yet for the Cleo but it’s a good one to have.

So that’s it. My current sewing catch up including a sew and tell, and a fabric and pattern haul.

Hope you enjoyed.



May Book review: My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgewick

Because I finished my April book a week early, I made a start on my May book which had to be a book aimed at children or young adults. Because of the head start I gave myself, I was able to finish the book in less than a week, incidentally not reading every day.

‘Swordhand’ is a book I had heard of a few times during my (so far) short teaching career. During training it was one of the options for teaching to year 8 during their gothic unit, but I went with ‘The Graveyard Book’. When I got my first teaching job, again it was an option for the year 8 gothic unit but I chose different books for both years I taught it. Still, there was ‘Swordhand’.  Tempting me. Enticing me. Just typical of a gothic book to be fair.

So I finally bought a copy thinking I’d give it a read and see if I wanted to teach it to yr 8 next year. I don’t.

It was not a bad book, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t want to teach it. The plot seems a bit… too much for year 8. There is quite a lot of more mature references I don’t think I’d be confident to address with year 8. I did enjoy it however, as a quick, slightly trashy read. Maybe trashy is a bit harsh but it’s not exactly a work of great classic literature.

The story is about a community living in what seems to be a Russian (?) forest. On the edge of the forest lives a woodcutter and his son, outcasts who are not trusted by the village. In fairness they don’t really trust the village either. All are living in terror of the fearsome ‘shadow queen’, an unknown demonic force who seems to be raising the dead. It is unclear whether they are vampires or zombies; vampires seem more likely but some of them are zombie-esque in their manner. This is all topped off by a group of undead hunting gypsies. A lot of the lore used is very traditional but seems to blend with lore I’ve not heard of before.

One thing that was interesting was the chapter lengths. They ranged from 4-5 pages to not even half a page long in some cases. It did make it read quicker, I guess, but it was baffling.

It was a quick enjoyable read but nothing overly special. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read but I don’t regret it. The gothic atmosphere was pleasingly traditional but I think the written style might make it a challenging read for year 8s, purely due to the use of unfamiliar words. I think overall I’m going to stick to my usual gothic offerings when teaching.

Lockdown fabric haul and plans

Someone needs to put a lock on my bank card. Or my internet access. Or my hands or something, I don’t know. I have bought altogether too much fabric. My stash has had to migrate from the cupboard it normally lives in and it has taken over my whole bedroom. On the plus side I have a lot of fabric to keep me busy with the projects I’ve got piled up in my head, and a week of half term ahead of me to make a decent start.

First up I’ve made 4 skirts during lock down so far. Three elasticated waist skirts and a TATB Bibi from her stretch book. Also a self drafted kimono jacket and started the TATB Indigo dress. If you want to check those out I put them on my Instagram which I’ll link.

Now I’ll start to go through my fabric and plans. This isn’t all my fabric just the stuff I have immediate plans for or have bought recently.

First up is this floral jersey rem. Some of you may recall that it is leftover from my jersey Bettine. I’m turning it into a pair of PJ shorts. All cut out and ready to go, but only just had enough. It was a bit touch and go.

Jersey shorts cut and ready to go

Next up this Damson ponte from Croftmill. It is going to be another Bibi skirt but this one will have the bib and straps. I also bought the mustard chicken print poplin, but I’m unsure what to do with that.

Doesn’t look damson coloured in real life. More of a burgundy. Still cozy.
Chickens. Suggestions please.

Next up, I’ve had plans for a two tone coco for a while (and yes, I do know how obsessed I am with Tilly and the Buttons) black with a coloured funnel neck and sleeves. I fancied green but I have already made a green sleeveless coco, so I’ve settled on dark red ponte. The black is a french terry.

I’ve had this purple floral jersey in my stash for years with no clue what to with it. I’ve now settled on an agnes dress hack because of the stretch and drape. It is so soft, I can’t wait to wear it.

For my birthday last week I got the new TATB book and have several plans. I bought some black and white striped jersey and black ribbing for the Tabitha t-shirt. It is beautifully soft. I also have had this black cotton jersey for years bought from a cheap stall on Bolton market for about £2 a metre and had no idea what to use it for until I saw the Safiya dungarees. I haven’t seen any made in Jersey but it should be okay. I also loved the look of the short sleeved Suki dress and wanted it in a linen so bought this gorgeous teal. It is linen look and 100% cotton but gorgeously soft. I’m now wondering if I should make it into some safiya dungarees instead. Help?

For a Tabitha
Suki or Safiya?

I love space and constellations so when I saw this gorgeous cotton poplin for £4.50 a metre I couldn’t leave it. Unfortunately I think it is now sold out so I’m going to have to think carefully about what to make from it. I would hate to waste it.

From taking part in me made may this year I have discovered I need more me made tops. I love the TATB Nora top pattern and have wondered about buying it for a while. To inspire me I bought this bright floral fabric from amazon of all places. It claimed to be a ponte but feels more like a scuba. Not sure whether to make a coco as I already have the pattern or whether to get the Nora because I do love the loose fit of the jumper. I think this one may sit in the stash a while yet.

Just 2 more I promise. Next up is this pink patterned cotton poplin I think I may have had for about 5 years. It’s not usually a colour I wear so I’ve not done anything with it yet but I’ve been a grown up recently and traced a load of patterns. One of them was the TATB Lilou, which I then made a toile of and adjusted to fit. This is just the right weight for a Lilou I think and I have purple lining too: score!

Finally, I have this gorgeous grey double gauze I bought at the stitching show earlier in the year. I think this is going to be a Bettine, nice and snuggly. I’ve never made anything with double gauze before so I’m pretty excited.

So that’s it. My current fabric stash but not all of it. I’ll do another of these soon I hope. Once I’ve done some sewing.



Lazy day decisions

I’m being lazy today. To quote Bruno Mars, today I don’t feel like doing anything. I had all the sewing plans but the sewjo… she eludes me. In spite of this I’ve made a number of sewing decisions. First up, my walkaway dress. Remember how excited I was by this make? Well I haven’t worn it. Not even once. I tried it on yesterday when I was looking for me mades for me made may, and now I think I know why.

The shape does me none of the favours. None. The big skirt is great but the top just doesn’t fit. The darts are in the wrong place when the shoulders fit. The shoulders are in the wrong place when the darts align. It’s just wrong. So I’ve made a decision. I’m going to refashion it. At the minute I’m thinking of keeping the big skirt but maybe creating a button front to it. And I’d need to draft a waistband. But I think I’d get more wear out of a skirt than a dress. Any advice would be greatly appreciated in this as I’ve never fashioned a me made before.

Next decision came from scrolling the interwebs for about an hour. I have some lovely soft, viscosey cotton type fabric (white with greeny grey polka dots) and I have been saving it for a boxy button up shirt. The issue being I just couldn’t find a pattern I liked. I had a very specific design and concept in my head that I couldn’t find as a pattern anywhere. Until this morning. I realised that I hadn’t checked sew over it (stupid, I know) because most of their patterns are pdf and I loathe making things that take too long especially due to putting a pattern together. But then while I was scrolling I noticed they have copy shop printing options. They would print any pdf I bought on A0 paper and ship it to me… I thought I might burst with excitement. Especially when in scrolling their top patterns I found the Libby shirt. It was like Lisa had read my mind when designing it. I bought it on the copy shop option pretty much immediately. Second decision done.

Today’s third decision came from peer pressure (fabric and pins are my peers right?). The dipped hem summer dress pattern has been sat on the fabric for over a week now. And this morning it stared at me. I could almost hear the fabric whispering “do it. Cut it out”. And I could actually hear my mum saying “do it. Cut it out”. Maybe it was just mum I could hear…

So I’ve brought it upstairs. Today’s fourth decision needs to be to stop watching criminal minds and drinking tea and actually cut the fabric out.

I also need to finish writing the review of my may book (which I finished a few days ago) and get it posted on here. But for now I have the rest of my sunday to do some bloody sewing. Which I will. After this episode…

April Book review: The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffman

April’s book challenge was to read the book that has been sat, unread on my shelf the longest. This was possibly the easiest to choose as The Falconer’s Knot has been on my shelf for approximately 15 years. I received it as a present one Christmas or birthday, tried to read it then, but I suspect I wasn’t old enough to get to grips with it. Spoiler alert is now in effect.

Returning to it as an adult, the book feels very YA in the written style but the story itself is passably grown-up. It is set in late Medieval or early renaissance (it isn’t made clear) Italy and concerns 2 teenagers (Chiara and Silvano) living in a convent and friary respectively, becoming involved in a series of mysterious murders. Chiara is there as her brother cannot afford a dowry for her to marry, Silvano is there to hide from a murder he did not commit. While there they both begin working in the pigment rooms with Brother Anselmo, Silvano’s mentor, and become embroiled in murder after murder, as numerous guests to the Friary, who have links to Anselmo’s past. I did find, however, that I enjoyed the historical aspects more than the ‘murder-mystery’ side of things. When compared with the details of how the artists work on the wall paintings of the Basilica of Assisi, how the pigments are created, how a woman could not choose her own path and how relationships can bloom in the most unlikely of places, the murders almost seemed like an afterthought. Which was odd because there were 5 of them (I think).

I don’t know. The murders seemed almost… tacked on to justify the genre and tagline. The solution wasn’t satisfying either. I’m not saying it was wrong to have the murderer in the monastery be the monk who happened to have gone mad due to the pigments he used when illuminating manuscripts, but what I am saying is some more groundwork would have been nice. It would have been much more satisfying to have more clues to that ending throughout. I didn’t need it spelling out for me but by the time this solution became a possibility I’d already worked out a much more satisfying ending which seemed to have legitimate clues throughout. I get what the writer was going for. I do. She didn’t want Brother Anselmo to be the killer of Ubaldo (the husband of the woman Anselmo once loved) and Umberto (his brother) and that’s fine. That was her choice. But it would have been so much more surprising to me as a reader if he actually was a bitter and twisted killer masquerading as a friar than just someone suspected of being that but actually was quite nice. I kept hoping that I’d get that moment of betrayal, where Silvano would realise the only person who could logically be the killer was his mentor. But it just didn’t happen.

The first murder (the one Silvano was accused of) did lay enough ground work for me to guess who the real killer was, and that was a satisfying solution. Kinda.

I think my real issue with Hoffman’s solutions is that they lack any real kind of motive. At least not plausible ones. I understand that the book is probably aimed at teenagers but that doesn’t excuse weak reasoning. It was all very convenient, and didn’t feel like she had known from when she first put pen to paper who she wanted the killer to be. His motive was just … not enough. Going a bit mad and killing people isn’t really a story. And she had the basis of a very good story (like I said the historical aspects and characters were, for the most part, great). I did enjoy it, don’t get me wrong. It just could have been so much better as a murder mystery. The front cover tag line mentions poison, and that’s fine but make the fact that the Friar was accidentally poisoning himself a bigger plot point, make him intentionally poison himself, have him poison his apprentice and make him the killer instead. Just do something interesting with it!

Right. I’m off to write a better murder mystery story using all of the above plot points.

March Book: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

At last. A book I actually read. Start to finish.


In December, Jack and I decided on the 4 gift rule: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. The ‘something to read’ from Jack was Once upon a river. He bought it because he thought I’d enjoy the fantasy premise. What he didn’t realise was I had just finished reading Setterfield’s first book: The Thirteenth Tale. She is a writer as I can only aspire to be. I love the way she captures moments and feelings in her words, and even if it is something unfamiliar to me I find I can put myself in that position.


So I actually started reading this in February, when we went on our Valentines trip to Edinburgh, but didn’t get very far in it due to us being far too busy in that wonderful city. When I came back to it in March I did have to remind myself of what had happened as it is a complex plot with a lot of interconnected characters, but once I started again as we began the lock down, I couldn’t put it down. This was a particular struggle for me as I have a lot of trouble with sleep. That first week I often wasn’t asleep before 4am and was awake again at around 7.30 or 8. I’ve always been a rubbish sleeper. Sunday nights are the worst. This was like almost 2 weeks of Sunday nights. As a child I would read when I couldn’t drift off and often my eyes would tire and I’d be away. This book was not like that. I tried reading it to tire my eyes and instead found myself invigorated by the plot; wide awake and hungry for more mystery. Spoiler alert is now in effect.


The book begins as a strange man collapses through the door of a pub on the banks of a river. He is not alone, but what everyone takes to be a life-size doll at first actually turns out to be a little girl. She is not breathing and the patrons assume her dead. The local nurse Rita is called to tend to the injured man, now identified as photographer Henry Daunt, but as she spends time with the girl’s body all of a sudden she feels a pulse.


2 years prior, a local wealthy couple had their 2 year old daughter snatched from her bed for ransom. Could this be their Amelia returned?


At the same time farmer Robert Armstrong is dealing with the trouble caused by his eldest son, whose gambling and dodgy dealings have lead his estranged wife to poison herself and drown their 4 year old daughter…


In the midst of this, Lily White the local Vicar’s housekeeper becomes obsessed by the girl, who she believes is her sister, and tries her best to keep her dark past at bay.


Connecting all these characters and plot lines is the small girl who came out of the water and came back to life.


Oh, and a lovely pig called Maud who can tell the future.


One of the things I loved most about this book is the skilful way the characters have been woven together and that even the smallest characters are fleshed out, adding an incredible depth to the tale. The driving force behind the plot is twofold: the telling of stories and the river. Much like a river, a story can be the giver of life; for some, the telling of stories is as necessary as drinking to live. The story of the girl comes from the pub where she came back to life and the girl herself came from the river. Both are central to the plot as it twists and turns through mystery after mystery.


As I mentioned, the cast of characters is broad and varied yet interconnected. I love that Setterfield is unafraid to make these links. They could so easily be cliche but she manages to lift the connections above that and instead create a vast web with plausible ties rather than convenient ones. Another thing I loved was that some of the characters are different to those expected in a book set at the turn of the century (which is how it feels though is never set in stone). Robert Armstrong is a black man married to a white woman. Jonathan, the youngest child of the pub landlady, has Downs syndrome. These differences are mentioned early on but so subtly that they didn’t occur to me until much later on. When for instance Jonathan is mentioned as being different from other boys his age, unable to tell stories because he can’t get the words in the right order in his head and having almond shaped eyes, I did not immediately think: he has Downs syndrome. I did not even immediately think: He has some kind of SEN. I thought: here is an interesting and deep character. He comes from a family of sociable story-tellers, but cannot do it himself. He must have some kind of talent he is not aware of yet but will come into play later. And therein I believe lies Setterfield’s mastery. His condition is a part of him and who he is, but Setterfield does not allow that to define him. Similarly, Armstrong’s skin colour is mentioned in such a subtle way that even as he repeatedly explains that Robin, his eldest son, does not look like him, it still did not initially occur to me that Robin was not his biological son, and as such didn’t look like him because he is not mixed race as his younger siblings are. Robin is in fact the result of rape, but Armstrong raises him as his own with no qualms. The character of Robin is also an interesting examination of the nature/nurture debate, as despite his parents’ best efforts to raise him right, he becomes involved with a very seedy set of individuals, headed by his biological father.


From reading Setterfield’s earlier book, The Thirteenth Tale, it is clear she is preoccupied with heritage and inheritance as these feature as themes throughout both books. The concept that a child may inherit more than their looks from their parents, but their identity as well, is interesting, and Setterfield seems to be of the opinion that nature triumphs over nurture more often than not. This could be one of the reasons why she writes so compellingly about the natural world. In this book, the descriptions of the water far outweigh the descriptions of people. Not only are there more but they are more detailed and immersive. Perhaps this is an indication of the power of nature and how it must not be taken for granted or abused by people.


I found it incredibly difficult to put down once the mystery began to unravel. I found myself wanting to figure out who this child was, who she truly belonged to and how she had come back to life.


Ultimately, it is not really about that though; it is more about how she brings those around her to life. Metaphorically speaking.


SERIOUSLY SPOILERS BELOW (not major ones but y’know)


Those at the pub, who deal in storytelling come to life when she is found as each speaker has their own twist on the tale, even Jonathan, who cannot tell stories initially, learns how to by the end. The Vaughns (the wealthy couple) are brought closer together by the little girl; she reinvigorates their relationship by bringing love back to their house, despite them not being sure if she is their missing daughter or not. Lily is given the strength she needed to break away from her past and begin living in the present. Rita, the nurse who did not desire a usual life, finds love and happiness in a family she never knew she wanted. And the Armstrongs? Well they manage to settle their differences and begin again, having found what was once lost.


I loved this book. I can see it becoming one of those I return to in the future. I’m sure I will discover more layers each time I read it too. I just have a feeling, as the book says: something is going to happen.

February book: And then there were none by Agatha Christie

Okay so I technically cheated and didn’t read this one. I listened to it as an audiobook instead.

February’s challenge was a book that had also been a film. My problem was that most of the books that were also films I had already read. I also had a mountain of assessments and mocks to mark (February is assessment season – well one of the assessment seasons). This meant I was so tired by the time I got home from work that often I didn’t have the energy to pick up a book never mind follow a line of written text.

The solution was obvious, find something short, easy, enjoyable and online; that way I could listen as I marked. I have always enjoyed watching Agatha Christie stories on TV with my mum, death on the Nile is a personal favourite and when the BBC created a new version of the classic ‘And then there were none’ a few years back I was hooked. But to my lasting shame I had never read a one of her books. Arguably the most seminal writer of the last century and I hadn’t even read a word of her. *hangs head in shame*

Okay, so this might be a cheat as well, as technically, the BBC produced a mini-series not a film but I had watched it nonetheless. The audiobook was just over 6 hours long so a perfect length for listening to while marking. Half an hour or so after school each day while I marked mocks was perfect. I really should listen to more audio books.

So, onto the book itself. The premise is set up as 10 individuals find themselves guests on Soldier Island. They are summoned by U.N. Owen and his wife, and dine together that first night without their mysterious host. The guests include a judge, a doctor, a mercenary and teacher amongst others, but the key to them all is their past. During that first dinner, a record is played which accuses them all of past crimes. To be more specific: murder.

As the ‘house party’ goes on, each guest is ‘taken care of’, presumably by their mysterious host. Each of their deaths seems somehow linked to a line of the poem ‘Ten little soldier boys’. They turn on each other, each believing one of the others to be behind these ‘punishments’. Obviously, with it being a murder-mystery we do get a reveal at the end to explain whodunnit but the way this is done in the book is different to the BBC series. It is difficult to review a mystery book as I don’t want to spoil it for others. I did enjoy it but found the mini-series more engaging. Perhaps because I knew the story already I was less engaged with the book, I don’t know.

As with any mystery, the groundwork is laid early on, so in that respect, because I knew the ending I could spot those clues as they came which was satisfying. Again, hard to review also because I didn’t read it, just listened to it, but I did enjoy it and will probably listen to more Agatha Christie in future.

sorry, I’m rubbish at reviews.